Some patients of rare skin cancer find relief through immunother - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Some patients of rare skin cancer find relief through immunotherapy

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SEATTLE, WA - A Texas man has been traveling to Seattle twice a month since learning he had a rare type of skin he'd never even heard of called "Merkel cell carcinoma."

66-year-old Steve Murphy had been told when he got diagnosed that he had a 50 percent chance he only had three months left to live.

Researchers at UW Medicine say there's been a sharp increase in Merkel cell cancer, which is more deadly than melanoma. They say the main reason for the rise is aging baby boomers.

Now in a clinic trial for immunotherapy, Murphy is responding well.

"The doctor explained to me the clinical trial," Murphy said. "And what the immunotherapy was designed to do, and it looked like from his advice and what we had read was our best chance."

"About half of patients that used to have advanced disease used to have very little chance of surviving more than one or two years," said Dr. Nghiem with UW Medicine. "About half of those patients now just with one of these drugs is having a very long-term control of their of their cancer or the complete elimination of their cancer."

Because of the rise in Merkel cell carcinoma cancers, it's important for primary care providers, dermatologists and medical oncologists to be looking for red or purple lesions, especially among baby boomer patients.